Critical Reviews

A collection of critical reviews by richard speer

Author of the biography “Matt Lamb: The Art of Success” (John Wiley & Sons, 2005), he is also a contributor to Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Sacramento News & Review, Salon, and Opera News. 

His projects have been awarded curatorial grants by the Sam Francis Foundation and the Ford Family Foundation. As contributing critic for ARTnews, Artpulse, Visual Art Source, and Art, Ltd., Richard has reviewed exhibitions in New York City, San Francisco, Palm Desert, Santa Fe, Miami, Saint Petersburg, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon (where he is based), covering artists such as Sam Gilliam, Roger Ballen, Janet Malcolm, and Peter Halley.  He has written catalogue essays about some of the world's leading contemporary artists.  For more information, visit


With tenacity and invention, artist Barry Mack has built a career on the quest to capture and concretize transcendent states. The moment of glorious, blinding epiphany—whether mystical or psychological—intrigues Mack and has long fueled his creative explorations.

Working in photography, digital media, and, most prominently, acrylic paint, he has deployed symbolist imagery and motifs culled from myth, geometry, and the collective unconscious, all in the search to visually approximate the inapproximable.

Ancient Light

As a critic, I look upon Barry Mack’s works with an appreciation of their fearless oppositions of darkness and light, their undulating curves juxtaposed with unforgiving spikes, and their foreboding but affecting pictorial vocabulary.

Doffing my critical hat and experiencing the works simply as an art lover, I’m more taken in by the otherworldly imagery they depict, whose ambiguity of time and place—and even of dimension—speaks more forcefully to me than would any pat explanations of their subject matter. Mack’s work opens our doors of perception to realms we may have glimpsed only briefly, in dreams or nightmares, trances or trips, and in doing so, they imply something radical about the relationship of outer space to inner: that the two may, in fact, be one and the same.

Transliterating the Transcendent State: Doorways

Given this genesis as a serious conceptual painter, it is entirely fitting that Mack’s current body of work is entitled Doorways, for it would not be an overstatement to suggest that his life’s mission is to paint Blake’s, Huxley’s, and Morrison’s perceptionary doors as if cleansed and infinite.  As the artist explains it, the new paintings are “intended to be expressions of what an actual epiphany might look like:  the utterly mysterious appearance of something far beyond mundane reality.” 

This is a tall order, and he who undertakes such a mission embarks on a journey of visual metonymy, of transliteration: converting characters in one alphabet into corresponding characters in another. Instead of transliterating Cyrillic to Greek, or Sanskrit to Kanji, Mack is transliterating ecstatic vision into an aesthetic experience via earthbound materials like pigment, acrylics, and linen. He is a reconnaissance scout venturing into foreign territory, then circling back around to convey his discoveries to the rest of us via the tools of the artist.